Back in 2009, when Labor’s John Brumby was premier, the Melbourne Age revealed how Progressive Business, a state Labor Party entity, went about raising funds. Under the headline “$10,000 to Sit Next to Brumby,” the newspaper detailed how businesses had paid significant amounts for access to senior ministers. In response, Brumby invoked the “democratic right” of people and businesses to donate to the party.
The Age continued to make fresh revelations, yet both sides of politics remained committed to the status quo, even after the political finance scandal in New South Wales in 2014. Politicians south of the Murray River were cut from a superior moral cloth, of course — or so the argument went. A typical response came from special minister of state Gavin Jennings, who was sceptical about the need for change because Victoria had a “cleaner” political culture than its neighbour to the north.
That era of complacency came to an abrupt end last year when Labor premier Daniel Andrews announced changes to the state’s political finance laws. And what an emphatic turnaround it was, with the premier promising “the strictest and most transparent political donation laws in Australia.” When he tabled the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill earlier this month, Jennings claimed that “these tough new donation laws will be the strictest and most transparent in the country” and were “long overdue.” For attorney-general Martin Pakula, the bill marked “a new era of transparency and accountability.”
Will the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill “enhance the integrity of the electoral system,” as its purposes state? As usual, the devil is in the detail.
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